The Punisher (1989) Review

One of Marvel Comics darkest characters, Frank Castle AKA “The Punisher” is unlikely to be back on the screen for a while due to the success of the family Marvel movie. He doesn’t have the star power to attract viewers, and if it isn’t appropriate for parents to bring their kids too, who will see it? The Punisher is a character that will only succeed on the screen if he gets out of comic territory and instead goes for a gritty story similar to how Christopher Nolan managed it with Batman. This rendition of the character — the first of three so far — is dark, brooding, and yawn inducing.

Frank Castle (Dolph Lundgren) has witnessed and failed to prevent his family’s murder. Believed dead by most of the police force, he is actually hiding out in the sewers, and has been doing so for 5 years. He now calls himself “The Punisher” and believes that all guilty souls should be punished. Jake Berkowitz (Louis Gossett Jr.) is the only person on the force who thinks that not only is Frank Castle still alive, but he is the eponymous Punisher, that is, until he meets a new member of the precinct. Detective Sam Leary (Nancy Everhard) is intent on helping Louis to find the man who has single handedly murdered 125 people in 5 years, whilst Castle himself is caught in the middle of a fight between two crime gangs in which one sides children have been abducted from their families.

The Punisher himself has the potential to be an interesting character, but the film takes the easy way out with him. In “The Dark Knight Trilogy”, Batman himself is a dark and brooding character. He alone isn’t all that interesting, it’s the way he has to keep people from finding out his real identity and also the character of Bruce Wayne that keeps him intriguing. Castle is a one man show, he doesn’t go out as The Punisher and come back as Frank Castle: Ladies Man. He is The Punisher at all times and is therefore always depressed and always dull. He has caught “Gladiator” syndrome, where he thinks he can be a well developed character just from being depressed and whipping out a few memorable lines. If only I could actually remember a single sentence The Punisher said.

It’s an 80’s action move through and through, there are big bangs and sparks fly regularly. All Dolph Lundgren does is pull the same dumb face all the way through, it would seem he is the Kristen Stewart of the past, just with bigger breasts. Dumb is actually a pretty good word for this movie. It’s a short and sweet word that makes this entire review redundant, and is also the first 4 letters of a far better movie: “Dumbo“.

One of the only good parts about it is Berkowitz, the detective that used to know Castle when he was a cop. He serves to spear head the side plot of the police trying to catch The Punisher and he does a pretty good job. He is certainly the best actor on show here, and he actually can be pretty entertaining. Once scene in which he knocks a thug out who is carrying pizza and then decides to take a bite of the spilled Italian dish was particularly amusing. His sidekick Sam however, I think she mentioned one thing about The Punisher living underground and that was it. I forget where she went after that, maybe she died? I don’t feel it matters, point is she didn’t make an impression.

A lot of back and forth between different situations drag the film down even more. In the end everything is just very very mild entertainment. I’m glad that these slightly older Marvel films didn’t feel the need to drag out their awfulness for 2 and a half hours. If it had, I’d be much angrier. At the length it is though, it serves as some dumb action movie with very little else going for it except for a few explosions and bullet holes.


(Just putting this out there, how come The Punisher can survive explosions — he does so three times at the beginning of the film — but he is so dreadful at hand to hand combat. Take a gun out of this guy’s hands and he’s as proficient as the cast of “The Descent” at caving. If I had to dedicate my life to killing people, I’d try getting good at it first.)

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